I foresee a mystery in your future…
The Clairvoyant Countess was one of the first mysteries (not by Agatha Christie) that I read. At the time, I was intrigued by the occult element in mystery stories, and the idea of a psychic detective was a “new” curiosity. Originally written circa 1975, I picked up a copy of a 1987 paperback reprint.
Written by the author of the Mrs. Pollifax series (which I went on to read after this book), The Clairvoyant Countess is Madame Karitska, an impoverished Russian countess, who gives free readings for the public-at-large. A chance encounter with Detective-Lieutenant Pruden catapults her into the role of amateur sleuth.
This light-hearted story (ideal for fans of cozy mysteries) is actually a series of adventures tied together by the two main characters, Madame Karitska and Detective Pruden. Some cases were solved within the confines of one chapter while others spanned two or more. The first of these was about a young woman, Alison Bartlett, who comes to the countess for a reading and is later murdered. An appointment in Alison’s calendar leads Detective Pruden to the countess, who helps solve the murder with her insight. Perhaps the strongest story that sticks in my mind involved people getting sick from Jimson weed, a poisonous plant like belladonna. The seeds were used in random killings. This one occurred toward the end of the book.
Now, some people might not care for the occult aspects of the book, but the countess’ ability comes across more like “an uncanny gift for common sense” as stated in the blurb on the book’s back cover. In fact, the paranormal elements are rather tame considering today’s current torrent of supernatural titles. Madame Karitska does, however, use psychometry, the reading of impressions from physical objects. Something I remember being fascinated by at the time.
I was also intrigued by the countess’ penchant for Turkish cofee. It had sounded so exotic, and I was curious to try it. Not long after reading the book, I did try it at a local restaurant. Not what I’d expected. It’s very strong, and very thick. I like my coffee with cream and sugar. The Turkish coffee was like sipping mud. Literally. Now, of course, I wonder if it might be worth giving it another chance. We don’t always like the things we love the first time.
Now admittedly, it’s been a long time since I read The Clairvoyant Countess, but I still remember it fondly. And just maybe, as with Turkish coffee, I might give it another go.